9. Who wants to be normal? by Gavin Oattes


Let’s begin by visiting the dictionary:

normal, ˈnɔːm(ə)l/, adjective

1. conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

“Conforming to a standard.” This simple dictionary definition practically ruled my teenage years. As I sit here writing this blog i’m having flashbacks to when I was 15 years old and trying my absolute best to fit in.

It’s strange, I have no idea if I ever did fit in with the ‘norm’ at high school. I’m not sure if I even wanted to but I felt I had to. It was different from primary school. Something happens, something changes when we leave primary school.

Think back to when you were five years of age and your teacher handed you a reading book that you had read the year before.

How did it make you feel? Well, as an ex-primary school teacher I’ll tell you how it made the children feel the first time I made this mistake – furious, absolutely furious.

Of course at five years of age we want nothing more than to be moved up a reading level. We want nothing more than for all of our class mates to see, hear and to acknowledge that we’ve been moved up a reading level and that we’re doing great! And of course the thing we want more than that is to be able to go home and tell our parents that we have been moved up a reading level and see that look of absolute pride on their faces.

Another thing that always amazed me as a primary school teacher was when all the pupils were doing their work and I was doing mine and all of a sudden a queue of pupils would form at my table, smiling with books open and proudly telling me they’ve finished and asking the question …what’s next?

Throughout nursery and primary school, children always have an absolute need, want and desire to learn, to progress, to prove themselves and to embrace the next challenge.  We don’t care what others think of us at that age. We’re ready and often encouraged to take on the world, to be the best we can be, to dream and to think big.  Often we are told “you can be whatever you want to be in life” so naturally we have an extraordinary desire to succeed.

Then some of us feel the need to grow up, fit in and in many cases ‘conform to a standard’.

I believe that in growing up too many of us lose something special. Very special. I’m going to refer to it as ‘that wee piece of magic’. It’s a natural thing that we’re all born with. I see it in my own two kids every day. They wake up every morning excited, smiling and raring to go. It’s wonderful, it’s extraordinary and it’s infectious.

How many of you reading this wake up every day raring to go? Raring to have the best, most fun and productive day you possibly can? How many of you wake excited about going to work?

If you don’t then you’re completely normal. It’s so normal now for people to wake up dreading the day ahead that it’s become the norm. And in some workplaces it’s so much the norm that it’s become acceptable.

How many of you actually want normal? I’m willing to put money on it that most people reading this absolutely, categorically don’t want normal. Most want something extraordinary. Something fresh, something fun and something purposeful.

Imagine what would happen in your workplace if every single member of staff woke up each day with the same fire in their belly that they had when they were five. What would they actually be capable of? What would they achieve? What would you achieve?

It’s frightening and beautiful all at the same time.

It’s a mindset. An attitude. A choice. And it costs you nothing but effort.


I had a wonderful moment in the street today with my four year old daughter Ellis and a lovely old man who couldn’t be much younger than seventy-five.

Just to clarify I have never met this man before. We were stood waiting for the green man to appear so we could cross the busy road safely. I know the crossing well, it’s a very long wait.

Ellis, in her own wee world and with her tongue firmly sticking out was dancing while singing the word “blah” over and over again to the tune of Jingle Bells. She wasn’t singing quietly, she was belting it out.

The elderly man turned and looked at Ellis who of course hadn’t even noticed him waiting beside us. He smiled and looked at me. I smiled back.

Another 20 seconds or so passed. Ellis was still giving it her all.

The elderly man turned once again, “what a wonderful way to pass the time. I bet that would make the wait much more fun.”

I laughed.

Just at this moment as the green man appeared, the old man popped his tongue out, began to dance and “blah’d” the whole of jingle bells as he crossed the road.


I’m now 36 years of age I can’t think of anything more boring than “conforming to a standard”.

Say how you feel, leave the job you hate, find your passion, love with every ounce of your bones, stand up for things that matter, don’t settle, don’t apologise for who you are.

Be you. Be different. Be fucking brave.

Gavin lives in Edinburgh with his wife Ali, their son Kian and their daughter Ellis. He’s MD of Tree of Knowledge and travels the world speaking on topics such as play, creativity, mindset and motivation. 

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